‘Eye on the Media’-commentary by David Bar-Illan
November 5, 1999
An amusing phenomenon in the media business is CNN’s claim to fairness in its
coverage of Israel. There are certain things the network probably cannot help. It
should not be held responsible, for instance, for the palpable hostility on its
reporters’ faces when they talk to Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria –
those unspeakable ‘settlers.’
Nor can the network be blamed for the arrant ignorance displayed by its Israel
bureau chief about the history of Jerusalem. One can attribute his contempt for
facts to trendy relativism and multiculturalism, which have substituted political
correctness for historic accuracy.
After all, if National Geographic can publish childish nonsense about the Canaanite
origins of the Palestinian Arabs, there is no reason why CNN should avoid insulting
the intelligence of its viewers.
But the network does have to take responsibility for acting like the propaganda
arm of Israel’s extreme left and the Palestinian Information ministry (the two are
Example: When Binyamin Netanyahu was prime minister, CNN would invite
mostly leftist, anti-government guests to appear on its programs. The excuse
was that the government view was amply represented by the prime minister
and his spokesmen.
But the same criteria do not apply now. In the past three months (beginning
August 1 and ending October 27) not one spokesman of the opposition was
invited to appear in a CNN telecast. Not one. Altogether there have been 47
guest appearances by Israelis during this period. Of these, 45, which included
six appearances by Ehud Barak and nine by Haim Ramon, ranged from left of
center to the extreme left (Yossi Beilin, Ran Cohen, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Leah
Tsemel). Only one guest, Eliezer Waldman, who appeared twice, could be
described as right of center, though he too is a member of the ruling coalition.
During the same period, the Palestinians and other Arabs appeared 39 times.
This kind of bias is even more disturbing on the CNN Internet website.
Unlike a quickly forgotten news story, an archival website is a
permanent fixture, a primary source of information for researchers. It has the
authority of a reference library.
To peruse the CNN archive is to realize that facts no longer exist as
independent entities. Like trendy ‘docu-fiction’ novels, which incorporate real
personalities and actual events into a fictional narrative, the political ‘profiles’
section of the CNN website includes only facts compatible with the portraits
CNN wishes to paint.
According to CNN, Cairo-born Yasser Arafat devoted his teen years to
“a study of Jewish life, associating with Jews and reading the
works of Zionists such as Theodor Herzl.”
One can only wonder where in the Cairo of 1946 Arafat found Arabic
translations of Zionist writings (he spoke no other language). Perhaps they were
distributed by the Moslem Brotherhood as Samizdat.
These writings must have had a positive impact on young Arafat, for in
the mid 1950s he and others formed Fatah, “dedicated to reclaiming Palestine for the Palestinians.”
There is an unintended poignancy to this sentence. It was indeed in those years
that the Arab leadership realized how much more effective they could make
their efforts to “throw the Jews into the sea” if they became Palestinians rather
By then, the Jews of this country (the only people called Palestinians
before the War of Independence) were named Israelis. Even The Palestine Post
became The Jerusalem Post.
By adopting the name ‘Palestinians’ the Arabs succeeded in converting
the Arab-Israeli conflict from a war of annihilation against the Jewish population
to a struggle of dispossessed natives against colonialist invaders. It was a
spectacularly effective canard, eventually adopted by Israel’s own fiction
weavers, the ‘new historians.’
One can only wonder what turn history would have taken had King Abdullah I
of Jordan not been prevented by the British from calling his kingdom Palestine.
Or if Israel’s founding father had heeded the advice of a young American
journalist (whose name, ironically, is Sidney Zion), and called the new Jewish
CNN’s Arafat may have been a Zionist scholar, but “his activities troubled
Jordan’s King Hussein,” the website tells us.
The activities themselves – blowing up hijacked passenger planes on
Jordanian soil, agitating against the Jordanian government, and inviting a
Syrian invasion – are left unmentioned. The innocent reader may be forgiven for
wondering why the King was troubled.
Arafat goes on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, with no mention of the two
Israelis he happened to share it with. (Why complicate a perfect fairy tale?)
But he is not the website’s only hero. Syrian ruler Hafez Assad, in whose
capital CNN is eager to have an office, is almost as admirable.
After leading a bloodless coup, Assad
“became Syria’s president, repealed martial law, gave freer rein
to the press and enacted other civil rights. International trade was liberalized
and Syrians were permitted to travel abroad. He launched a five-year economic
development plan and encouraged the development of private enterprise. Assad
also admitted into his government representatives of opposition groups.
In international affairs, Assad tried to improve relations with his
neighbors. In October 1973, he and his close associate, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat,
launched a joint attack on Israel in an attempt to recover territory lost during
the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.”
Gasping with admiration for these sweeping reforms, readers must wonder why
they have never thought of improving relations with their neighbors by
It may be downright rude to point this out, but the CNN bio never mentions the
Hamma massacre, where civil rights proponent Assad had 20,000 civilians
killed, thus depriving them of at least some of their civil rights.
Nor does it include the litany of his unmatched brutalities in Syria and
Lebanon. It even refrains from recalling one of Assad’s unique distinctions. His
is the only regime on earth that has officially commended army officers for
beheading prisoners of war.
After all the praise the article heaps on Assad, it is quite unsettling to
find in the last paragraph a brief reference to his support for
“the violent terrorist organization Hizbullah,”
and to Syria’s inclusion in the state Department’s list of countries that
support terrorism. No wonder Arab leaders claim the State Department is run by
Earlier this month, CNN deviated from its dedication to errors, Arab
propaganda, and nonsensical observations, and stated on an Internet webpage
called ‘At a glance – facts and figures on the State of Israel’ that Jerusalem is
But when a new organization, ‘American Moslems for Jerusalem,’
protested, CNN instantly capitulated. The web was changed, and Jerusalem
was converted from
capital to “largest city,” leaving Israel the only country in the world without a
CAMERA (Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America), an
activist media watch organization based in Boston, pointed out to CNN that
Jerusalem is the seat of government, whose status as Israel’s capital is
recognized by an act of Congress. The network’s reply was unequivocal:
“CNN does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of
When the choice is between the US Congress and ‘American Moslems for
Jerusalem,’ CNN has no problem deciding.
Note (November 18):
CNN – which had removed references to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from
its web page in the wake of an email campaign by anti-Israel groups – has
reversed its position.
After discussions between the network and
representatives of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East
Reporting(CAMERA), the CNN web page now states that Jerusalem is “the seat
of Israel’s government and its self-declared capital, although its status
is in dispute.”
The new CNN formulation “is not entirely satisfactory,” said CAMERA, “but
it is essentially accurateâ¦ CNN’s action was a welcome change from the
pattern of capitulation by other U.S. businesses under pressure by